IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Optimal Fuel Taxes and Heterogeneity of Cities


  • Georg Hirte


  • Stefan Tscharaktschiew



In the United States all levels of jurisdictions are allowed to levy supplements to the federal fuel tax level. While fuel tax differentials at the state level are substantial, there is a relatively small differentiation across cities. This seems surprising given the heterogeneity of U.S. metropolitan areas. Against this background, the objective of the present paper is to analyze whether the current small level of tax differentiation across heterogeneous metropolitan areas is justified on efficiency grounds. We employ a spatial urban computable general equilibrium approach and calculate optimal gasoline taxes for an average U.S. prototype urban area characterized by a medium degree with respect to the spatial distribution of jobs (implying a medium spatial expansion of the urban area, medium degree of externalities, medium public transit share etc.) and for cities that differ with respect to these and further characteristics. We find that in our prototype urban economy the optimal gasoline tax is higher than current rates as suggested by previous studies calculating nationwide optimal gasoline taxes. Furthermore, it is shown that optimal tax levels may vary considerably across heterogeneous cities, much more than actual tax rates. This implies that stronger spatial fuel tax differentiation across cities could raise social welfare. However, we also show that setting an optimal spatially uniform tax, i.e. a uniform tax that maximizes the sum of the benefits generated in all cities, is capable to generate a significant fraction of the maximum achievable welfare gain under optimal city specific locally differentiated gasoline taxes. Interestingly, such an optimal uniform tax could deviate from all city specific optimal fuel tax levels. This suggests that the additional benefit from spatial fuel tax differentiation might actually be relatively small, in our case the efficiency premium is less than one-thirds. Copyright Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Suggested Citation

  • Georg Hirte & Stefan Tscharaktschiew, 2015. "Optimal Fuel Taxes and Heterogeneity of Cities," Review of Regional Research: Jahrbuch für Regionalwissenschaft, Springer;Gesellschaft für Regionalforschung (GfR), vol. 35(2), pages 173-209, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:jahrfr:v:35:y:2015:i:2:p:173-209 DOI: 10.1007/s10037-014-0095-z

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anas, Alex & Xu, Rong, 1999. "Congestion, Land Use, and Job Dispersion: A General Equilibrium Model," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 451-473, May.
    2. Tscharaktschiew, Stefan & Hirte, Georg, 2012. "Should subsidies to urban passenger transport be increased? A spatial CGE analysis for a German metropolitan area," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 285-309.
    3. Alex Anas & Richard Arnott & Kenneth A. Small, 1998. "Urban Spatial Structure," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1426-1464, September.
    4. Tol, Richard S. J., 2005. "The marginal damage costs of carbon dioxide emissions: an assessment of the uncertainties," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(16), pages 2064-2074, November.
    5. Nitzsche, Eric & Tscharaktschiew, Stefan, 2013. "Efficiency of speed limits in cities: A spatial computable general equilibrium assessment," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 23-48.
    6. Ian W. H. Parry & Kenneth A. Small, 2009. "Should Urban Transit Subsidies Be Reduced?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 700-724, June.
    7. Bucovetsky, S., 1991. "Asymmetric tax competition," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 167-181, September.
    8. de Bovenberg, A Lans & Mooij, Ruud A, 1994. "Environmental Levies and Distortionary Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 1085-1089, September.
    9. Anas, Alex, 2007. "A unified theory of consumption, travel and trip chaining," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 162-186, September.
    10. Small, Kenneth A & Rosen, Harvey S, 1981. "Applied Welfare Economics with Discrete Choice Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(1), pages 105-130, January.
    11. Daniel J. Graham & Stephen Glaister, 2002. "The Demand for Automobile Fuel: A Survey of Elasticities," Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, University of Bath, vol. 36(1), pages 1-25, January.
    12. Parry, Ian W.H. & Timilsina, Govinda R., 2010. "How should passenger travel in Mexico City be priced?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 167-182, September.
    13. Michael A. Nelson, 2002. "Using Excise Taxes to Finance State Government: Do Neighboring State Taxation Policy and Cross-Border Markets Matter?," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 42(4), pages 731-752.
    14. Nielsen, Soren Bo, 2001. " A Simple Model of Commodity Taxation and Cross-Border Shopping," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 103(4), pages 599-623, December.
    15. Wildasin, David E., 1988. "Nash equilibria in models of fiscal competition," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 229-240, March.
    16. McMillen, Daniel P. & McDonald, John F., 1998. "Suburban Subcenters and Employment Density in Metropolitan Chicago," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 157-180, March.
    17. West, Sarah E. & Williams III, Roberton C., 2007. "Optimal taxation and cross-price effects on labor supply: Estimates of the optimal gas tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(3-4), pages 593-617, April.
    18. Havranek, Tomas & Irsova, Zuzana & Janda, Karel, 2012. "Demand for gasoline is more price-inelastic than commonly thought," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 201-207.
    19. Kenneth A. Small & Kurt van Dender, 2007. "Long Run Trends in Transport Demand, Fuel Price Elasticities and Implications of the Oil Outlook for Transport Policy," OECD/ITF Joint Transport Research Centre Discussion Papers 2007/16, OECD Publishing.
    20. Parry, Ian W.H., 2008. "How should heavy-duty trucks be taxed?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 651-668, March.
    21. Brons, Martijn & Nijkamp, Peter & Pels, Eric & Rietveld, Piet, 2008. "A meta-analysis of the price elasticity of gasoline demand. A SUR approach," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 2105-2122, September.
    22. Parry Ian W. H., 1995. "Pollution Taxes and Revenue Recycling," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 64-77, November.
    23. Sterner, Thomas, 2012. "Distributional effects of taxing transport fuel," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 75-83.
    24. Christopher Decker & Mark Wohar, 2007. "Determinants of state diesel fuel excise tax rates: the political economy of fuel taxation in the United States," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 41(1), pages 171-188, March.
    25. Train,Kenneth E., 2009. "Discrete Choice Methods with Simulation," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521747387, March.
    26. Ian W. H. Parry & Kenneth A. Small, 2005. "Does Britain or the United States Have the Right Gasoline Tax?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1276-1289, September.
    27. Zodrow, George R. & Mieszkowski, Peter, 1986. "Pigou, Tiebout, property taxation, and the underprovision of local public goods," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 356-370, May.
    28. Devereux, M.P. & Lockwood, B. & Redoano, M., 2007. "Horizontal and vertical indirect tax competition: Theory and some evidence from the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(3-4), pages 451-479, April.
    29. Wilson, John D., 1986. "A theory of interregional tax competition," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 296-315, May.
    30. Anas, Alex, 1990. "Taste heterogeneity and urban spatial structure: The logit model and monocentric theory reconciled," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 318-335, November.
    31. Mark D. Manuszak & Charles C. Moul, 2009. "How Far for a Buck? Tax Differences and the Location of Retail Gasoline Activity in Southeast Chicagoland," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(4), pages 744-765, November.
    32. Hymel, Kent M. & Small, Kenneth A. & Dender, Kurt Van, 2010. "Induced demand and rebound effects in road transport," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 44(10), pages 1220-1241, December.
    33. Peter Mieszkowski & Edwin S. Mills, 1993. "The Causes of Metropolitan Suburbanization," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(3), pages 135-147, Summer.
    34. Ohsawa, Yoshiaki, 1999. "Cross-border shopping and commodity tax competition among governments," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 33-51, January.
    35. Rouwendal, Jan & Verhoef, Erik T., 2006. "Basic economic principles of road pricing: From theory to applications," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 106-114, March.
    36. Giuliano, Genevieve & Small, Kenneth A., 1999. "The Determinants of Growth of Employment Subcenters," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt06n534j0, University of California Transportation Center.
    37. Kanbur, Ravi & Keen, Michael, 1993. "Jeux Sans Frontieres: Tax Competition and Tax Coordination When Countries Differ in Size," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 877-892, September.
    38. Proost, Stef & Van Dender, Kurt, 2012. "Energy and environment challenges in the transport sector," Economics of Transportation, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 77-87.
    39. De Borger, Bruno & Proost, Stef, 2013. "Traffic externalities in cities: The economics of speed bumps, low emission zones and city bypasses," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 53-70.
    40. Ian W. H. Parry & Margaret Walls & Winston Harrington, 2007. "Automobile Externalities and Policies," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(2), pages 373-399, June.
    41. Hirte, Georg & Tscharaktschiew, Stefan, 2013. "The optimal subsidy on electric vehicles in German metropolitan areas: A spatial general equilibrium analysis," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 515-528.
    42. Egger, Peter & Pfaffermayr, Michael & Winner, Hannes, 2005. "An unbalanced spatial panel data approach to US state tax competition," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 88(3), pages 329-335, September.
    43. Small, Kenneth A., 2012. "Valuation of travel time," Economics of Transportation, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 2-14.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Tscharaktschiew, Stefan, 2016. "The private (unnoticed) welfare cost of highway speeding behavior from time saving misperceptions," Economics of Transportation, Elsevier, vol. 7, pages 24-37.

    More about this item


    Fuel tax; Gasoline tax; Urban economics; Tax differentiation; Job sprawl; H21; H71; R13; R14; R48; R51;

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • R13 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - General Equilibrium and Welfare Economic Analysis of Regional Economies
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns
    • R48 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Government Pricing and Policy
    • R51 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Regional Government Analysis - - - Finance in Urban and Rural Economies


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:spr:jahrfr:v:35:y:2015:i:2:p:173-209. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.